The NBA is a young man's league. With elite college players often declaring for the NBA draft after just one season, we're seeing more and more young players having an impact in the NBA. Don't believe me, just take a look at last year's Oklahoma City Thunder, whose nucleus of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka were all under 24 years old.
With young impact players becoming the rule rather than the exception, here are 10 young players who will break out in the 2012-13 season.
*Note on the criteria for inclusion: In order to be included in the slideshow, the player must be 25 years old or younger at the start of the 2012-13 season. They also must not have been named as part of an All-Star team, All-NBA team or won a significant award like MVP, Most Improved Player, Sixth Man of the Year or Defensive Player of the Year, with the exception of Rookie of the Year.
So players like Durant, Westbrook, Harden, Ibaka, Derrick Rose and Blake Griffin don't qualify.
In a lot of respects, Cousins already exploded onto the scene in 2011-12. As a 21-year-old, second-year player Cousins averaged 18.1 points, 11.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.5 rebounds and 1.2 blocks.
Don't kid yourself, if Cousins played in L.A., New York or Boston instead of Sacramento, he would have been a household name last season.
When Cousins improves upon his performance this season, it will be too much to ignore—even for a player in Sacramento.
Monroe, like Cousins, suffers because he doesn't play in a larger market. But that doesn't change the fact that Monroe is one of the best young centers in the NBA.
Monroe averaged 15.4 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.3 steals in 2011-12. Those numbers are worthy of publicity.
At only 21 years old and entering his third NBA season, Monroe seems primed to break out in 2012-13.
After being drafted by the Timberwolves in 2009, it took Rubio a couple seasons to make it from Spain to the NBA. But once the young point guard arrived, he certainly didn't disappoint.
Up until his knee injury last season, Rubio was one of the NBA's best pure point guards. He was an excellent distributor, averaging 8.2 assists as a rookie. He also used his quickness and anticipation to help him average 2.2 steals.
The one area where Rubio needs to improve next season is his ability to shoot. Although he'll never be an elite scorer because of his position, he needs to be able to make more than 35.7 percent of his shots.
With some improvement shooting and a full season without missing significant time to injury, Rubio should burst onto the scene in 2012-13.
Irving is well on his way to NBA stardom. He was the first overall selection in the 2011 draft and got off to a nice start, winning the NBA's Rookie of the Year award.
Now entering his second season, Irving is set to break out. He can score (he averaged 18.5 points per game), he can distribute (5.4 assists per game) and he can shoot the ball (.469 field-goal percentage, .399 three-point percentage, .872 free-throw percentage).
If Irving can get and stay healthy (he broke his hand a couple weeks back), he's got the skills to be take the NBA by storm.
Leonard may never get the same publicity as the other guys on this list, but he can impact games just as much. That's because Leonard has the potential to be a lock-down defender. It's an extremely valuable skill, but one that won't get you on many highlight reels.
As a rookie, Leonard posted 2.4 defensive win shares and averaged 1.3 steals per game in only 24.0 minutes per game. With more playing time, he'll have an even bigger impact on the game.
He's also got the skills to be an efficient scorer. Although he only averaged 7.9 points per game, he shot 49.3 percent from the field and 37.6 percent from three-point range.
When you couple Leonard's defensive ability with his offensive efficiency, you have an under-the-radar player ready to take a step to the next level.
Klay Thompson was excellent down the stretch for the Golden State Warriors in 2011-12. Thompson spent the first part of the season as a reserve, but once he was promoted to the starting lineup, he really took off.
In his final 28 games, Thompson averaged 18.6 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. It's less than half of a season worth of production and the Warriors were essentially playing meaningless games, but Thompson's got the skills to replicate that performance throughout a full season.
Ty Lawson will be entering his fourth season in 2012-13, and now is the time for the point guard to get the recognition he rightfully deserves.
Playing in Denver probably does Lawson's publicity no favors, but averaging 16.4 points and 6.6 assists per game is star-caliber production.
Considering Lawson has improved his numbers every season and is still only 25 years old, he should start to get the credibility due for a player of his ability.
Generally speaking, it's difficult to predict what type of impact rookies will have. We haven't seen them perform in the NBA, so it's mostly speculation. But in the case of Anthony Davis, an exception can be made.
That's because Davis is getting an incredible opportunity by playing on the USA men's Olympic basketball team. On the team, Davis will get a chance to practice and play with the best players in the world. He'll also play against some of the best competition in the world.
That experience should prepare Davis for the NBA more than any other rookie. He'll get to see how elite players prepare themselves. He'll get to adjust to the speed of the game. Then he can use those experiences to tap into his already incredible skill set.
After being drafted 22nd overall by the Denver Nuggets in the 2011 draft, Faried was one of the NBA's best rookies. He was voted third overall in the 2011-12 NBA Rookie of the Year, trailing only Kyrie Irving and Ricky Rubio (both of whom are already on this list).
Faried led all rookies in win shares per 48 minutes, and he was second in total win shares. He also gained the experience of playing in the postseason as a rookie. That's something that should help Faried going forward.
Between Lawson and Faried, the Denver Nuggets have two up-and-coming players on their roster.
With John Wall, the talent is certainly there to explode in 2012-13. The concern with Wall is that while his numbers were still above average, he didn't have a noticeable improvement from his rookie season to his second year.
In his rookie year, Wall averaged 16.4 points, 8.3 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 3.8 turnovers while shooting 40.9 percent from the floor. In his second year (2011-12), he averaged 16.3 points, 8.0 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 3.9 turnovers while shooting 42.3 percent from the field.
Judging solely by the numbers, Wall is comparable to Ty Lawson. But unlike Lawson, who has improved every season he's been in the NBA, Wall is essentially the same player he was when he was drafted.
Wall didn't increase his scoring, he didn't become a better passer and he didn't cut down on his turnovers. His ability to shoot the ball from behind the three-point line actually got much worse. In his rookie year he shot 29.6 percent from three-point range, compared to 7.1 percent in 2012-13.
The one thing that Wall has going for him, and the reason why he could drastically improve, is because he'll still only be 22 years old in 2012-13. His incredible upside is still intact, he just needs to put in the work to tap into it.
Let me know what you think and if there are a few players I forgot who are worthy of inclusion.
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